169276535Individuals suffering from type 2 diabetes may lose more brain volume than previously expected as they grow older, according to the results of a new study.

Surprisingly, the reduction in brain volume does not appear linked to the harmful effects of diabetes on small blood vessels in the brain, but rather by how the brain handles excess sugar, stated researchers. While researchers have known for quite a while that diabetes has a negative impact on the brain, the relationship between the disease and reduction in brain matter was not previously known.

Diabetes has been linked with an increased risk for stroke and dementia in earlier studies. Research has also shown that individuals who suffer from gum disease have an increased risk of developing diabetes. Until this latest study, researcher have thought that these increased risks were likely related to damage caused by diabetes to blood vessels.  However, this study now suggests that additional brain damage occurs as a result of diabetes in ways more similar to Alzheimer’s disease than ever thought before. Researchers now wonder if diabetes actually affects the brain in two ways: brain-cell degeneration and damage to blood vessels.

The results of this study were published online in the journal Radiology.

Unknown Connection

The brain shrinkage noted in the study may have links to how the brain uses sugar, notes researchers who stressed that patients need to understand the negative effects diabetes can have on their neurological health. Currently, researchers are unsure whether treating diabetes will help reduce shrinkage once it has begun.

Approximately 26 million Americans suffer from diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. With type 2 diabetes, the body often fails to use insulin efficiently, leading to an excess of both blood sugar and insulin.

As part of the study, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine examined brain scans of 614 study participants with type 2 diabetes. The study participants had each dealt with diabetes for an average of 10 years.

Researchers discovered that the longer an individual had diabetes, the more brain volume loss occurred, particularly with gray matter. Gray matter includes the parts of the brain involved with self-control, decision-making, speech, emotion, memory, muscle control and seeing and hearing.

Researchers observed that for every 10 years a participant had dealt with diabetes, his or her brain appeared roughly two years older when compared to someone of the same age without diabetes.

It’s important to note that this study only found a connection between diabetes and brain matter reduction, not a clear cause and effect relationship. However, future study devoted to better understanding this connection is planned.

Diabetes & Gum Disease

Studies conducted by the American Academy of Periodontology have shown that individuals with diabetes have a higher risk of developing periodontal disease, most likely due to individuals with diabetes having a more difficult time dealing with infections. However, additional research also suggests the link between gum disease and diabetes is a two-way street in that individuals with gum disease may have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels, which places them at higher risk of developing diabetes.

To help reduce your risk of diabetes and gum disease, it’s important that you maintain your oral hygiene by brushing and flossing daily, along with continuing to schedule regular appointments with Dr. da Costa. As this and other studies have shown, the body is interconnected in many ways scientists yet to fully understand, and many of these connections link directly to an individual’s oral health. Keep your teeth and gums healthy, and the rest of the body will follow.